I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Attack of the Best Lists 2023: LitHub Staff's Best Books They Read in 2023 with an Important Reminder That Best Does Not Have an Expiration Date

 This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Attack of the Best Lists 2023" coverage [and more backlist best of the year options] you can click here.  

I am going to end the week with a great example of a staff best list, one that you can replicate at your library. It is LitHub's 38 Best Books We Read in 2023. From the page with the list:

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times, but at least the reading was good. Here are the Literary Hub staffers on the best books—both new and old, because why limit ourselves? Time is a flat circle, etc. etc.—that we read in 2023.

What follows is each person who works there taking a turn to pick the best book they read in 2023, full stop. Not the best book they read which came out in 2023. Just simply, the best book they read during this calendar year. Now of course many of them cover the newest books as their job so there are many 2023 titles, but not all, not by a long shot.

One that struck me was a title I read back when it came out in 1999. Again from the full list:

Melissa Bank, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing

Melissa Banks, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999)

Does Girls’ Guide really need to be on another Lit Hub list? Sure, fine, if you know you know, but this is for those who don’t: pick up this book immediately, you won’t be sorry. And it’s the perfect time too, for Viking is reissuing the book as a Penguin Classic 25th Anniversary Edition next summer. Twenty-five years since the character of Jane Rosenthal was created, every bit as alive and witty, as convivial and charming company that any reader could hope for. Girls Guide is described as interconnected short stories, though all but one piece is about Jane, growing up and into herself. Jane as a young girl watching her brother fall in love for the first time, Jane moving to New York, working in publishing, Jane having a relationship with a man twice her age, Jane’s parents growing older, Jane growing older. I deeply loved having Jane’s voice in my ear and I missed her as soon as I reached the last page. Melissa Bank passed away this year, a loss for us all, but what a gift she left behind: a girl as droll, and searching, and recognizable and real as Jane, here for you whenever you choose to pick up this amaranthine gem, a truly lasting collection.  –Julia Hass, contributing editor 

I had forgotten Banks died this year, and I had no idea this book was getting a "classic" reprint. I also barely remember if it is a book that still resonates today. Clearly for Haas it did. Well, because Hass included it, because they were allowed to list a book from any publication year as the best book they read this year, now others may turn to it.

This is the magic of "Best" lists in action. When you ask readers what the best book they read in any year was, and don't force them to limit their options to books that also came out in that year, you make the entire "best" process less stressful.

Right now, and over the next few weeks is the time to make your full library conversation starter this question, "What is the best book you read this year?" Or, make it even more inclusive and ask patrons, "What is is the best thing you checked out from the library this year?" Here is the post where I explain how to have these whole library conversations and turn them into displays and lists.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Attack of the Best Lists 2023: Booklist's Editors' Choice and A Chance for Readers to Vote For Their Favs as Well

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Attack of the Best Lists 2023" coverage [and more backlist best of the year options] you can click here.  

This week, Booklist released their 2023 Editors' Choice lists in all ages and formats: 

You can use this link to pull up all Editors' Choice lists beginning with 2023 and going backward.

As a reviewer for Booklist, I was thrilled to see multiple books I had reviewed this year show up on these lists, especially the Adult Books for YA list because Booklist takes those YA recs on adult books very seriously. We are even paid a few extra dollars to write the rec statement. 

But wait, there's more. As if this treasure trove of "Best" picks wasn't enough, last year Booklist raised the bar on "Best" lists with their first annual Readers' Choice Award. And now, it is back for year two

The details are here and below, but before you get to the specifics, I just want to remind everyone that not only is this a fun award for us, the library workers, to get to vote on, but also, what a great idea for you to use to run a year's best poll with your patrons. 

Vote in the Second Annual Booklist Blog Readers’ Choice Awards

First published November 30, 2023 (Booklist Online).

December is upon us, which means it’s the perfect time to look back and rave about the best books we’ve read this past year! The editors at Booklist will share their Top of the List and Editors’ Choice picks in the December issue of Booklist, and we recently announced the finalists for the 2024 Andrew Carnegie Medals of Excellence. But what about you? What novels did you fall in love with this year? Which stories excited you so much that you want others to hear about them too?

The Booklist Blog Readers’ Choice Awards is your chance to vote for your favorite books in the following categories by writing in the title, author, and character(s) when applicable:

promo image for Readers' Choice AwardsBest Book
Best Book Cover
Best Protagonist
Favorite Couple
Most Surprising Plot Twist

Only adult and young adult novels published in 2023 are eligible. Voting closes the last week of January 2024. Check our blog for updates, including a shortlist (which means more voting!) and winner announcements. And see last year’s winners here! Have your favorites ready? Then vote here!

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Attack of the Best Lists 2023: A Year in Reading

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Attack of the Best Lists 2023" coverage [and more backlist best of the year options] you can click here.  

One of my favorite end of the year, "best" events is The Millions' annual essays on "A Year in Reading." From editor's  the landing page for this year's 19th installment of the series:

 YIR gathers together some of today’s most exciting writers, thinkers, and tastemakers to share the books that shaped their year. What makes the series special is that it celebrates the subjectivity of reading: where yearend best-of lists pass off their value judgement as definitive, YIR essayists take a more phenomenological tact, focusing instead on capturing the experience of the books they read. (I’m not particularly interested in handing down a decision on “The 10 Best Books of 2023,” and neither are this year’s contributors.) This, of course, makes for great, probing essays—in writing about our reading lives, we inevitably write about our inner lives.  

YIR contributors were encouraged approach the assignment—to reflect on the books they read this year, an intentionally vague prompt—however they wanted, and many did so with dazzling creativity. One contributor, a former writer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arranged her essay like an art gallery, with each book she read assigned a museum wall label. Another, whose work revolves around revolutionary and utopian movements in history, organized her year by the long-defunct French Revolutionary calendar. Some opted to write personal narratives, while others embraced the listicle format. Some divided up their reading between work and pleasure; for others, the two blended together (as is often the case for those of us in the literary profession).  

The books that populate this year’s essays also varied widely. Some contributors read with intention: one writer of nonfiction returned to reading fiction for the first time in 13 years; one poet decided to read only Black romance in the second half of 2023. For two new parents, their years in reading were defined by the many picture books that they read to their infants. There were, however, common threads. This year, contributors read one book more than any other: Catherine Lacey‘s novel Biography of X, which chronicles the life of a fictional artist against the backdrop of an alternate America. Also widely read and written about were Dan Sinykin‘s Big Fiction, an analysis of the conglomeration of the publishing industry, and the works of Annie Ernaux (a star of last year’s YIR as well).

I’m profoundly grateful for the generosity of this year’s contributors, the names of whom will be revealed below as entries are published throughout the month, concluding on Thursday, December 21. Be sure to bookmark this page and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date.

Sophia Stewart, editor

They ask a diverse list of writers, most of them "up and coming" or a little under the general radar to write an essay for which the only requirement is that it is on the topic of their personal year in reading. The result is an enjoyable series of essays that are united by theme but vary in style and content.

They also have a YIR tab at the top of The Million's homepage to access these valuable essays from the current year and any and all past years in one easy to find place. 

These "A Year in Reading" pieces are fun to read. Any reader will enjoy perusing these essays because they are all personal accounts of what reading meant to the author in the year that just passed. Yes there are lists of books, but it is through the author's exploration of why they chose these titles, what they meant to that person, and just in general, what reading meant to them in their life over the past year that these essays viscerally communicate the power of reading. And reading about others being positively affected by the act of reading is a joy for all readers to read. [So many "reads" in that sentence.]

However, besides the personal joy you will get from reading this, there are also tangible RA and Collection Development elements to these essays.

First, there is the training you get on appeal, and why different readers like different books. One of the hardest things to get practice on in our field, is hearing readers talk about what they like to read and why. We need to gather voices from across all experiences in order to have more examples of why people like the books they like. The more examples we have experience with, the more easily we can help readers as they approach us with their inquiries. It also allows us to think more broadly about readalikes, which is one of the drums I beat frequently. This archive is a treasure trove of dozens of readers sharing their feelings on appeal.

Second, and most obvious, the lists of books that come out of the series. These are not all books that came out in 2023. These are simply the books other authors read in 2023. You will expose yourself to many titles you either haven't heard of or haven't thought about in a while, through these essays. You can even turn the entire series itself into a display using the books. "A Year in Reading" can be your title. Make a quick note about the source of the display topic and then fill it with all of the books. Use past year's titles if you run out. It will be inclusive, diverse, and whole collection by default.
Third, make it interactive by asking patrons to add their "Year in Reading" titles. Use this as a fun conversation starter with your patrons and staff. Instead of asking for "favorites," ask people to share their Year in Reading. Just that. Leave it open and see what you get back in response. You can even start with staff. Send out an email to all staff and ask for 5 titles that represent their year in reading. Then make small displays in the building and on al lot your online spaces. This can run for weeks. Then use this post to help you ask patrons to add their "Year in Reading."

Fourth, the authors that are chosen to participate themselves are a great resource. As I mentioned above, The Millions tends to ask a diverse group of up and coming authors from across the entire landscape of writing today. Use this series to discover new authors, both to add to your collections and to suggest to patrons.

Remember to think outside of the "best" box if you want your patrons to really notice and understand how you help them to discover books they would never find on their own. Yes, we need to have the more traditional "best books" displays up, but make room for some less traditional displays that not only capture those "end of the year" feels, but also, allow them to participate in a more meaningful way.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Embrace the Reading Challenge As a RA Tool To Help Yourself and Your Readers with a Guest Appearance from NoveList

I know that everyone has their eyes on the posts about 2023 right now-- what was best, what was popular, what defined the year, etc... Bu in classic Becky fashion, I want to pivot today and instead talk about Reading Challenges for next year. Well, for any year really, but I will use the NoveList 2024 reading challenge, which my colleague Yaika Sabat recently posted on their blog.

When the two of us were together last week at ARRTCon we talked about reading challenges and the different roles they play in our lives as librarians working with leisure readers, how we have used them for ourselves, and to help our readers. So today, I am going to use Sabat's post (with her permission) to frame today's discussion here on the blog.

First, there is the obvious as Sabat writes in the post:

Many of us get into a reading rut and only realize it once we change up what we're reading. We're all about trying new things to broaden our reading habits. So, to help you easily add variety to your TBR, we're continuing our tradition of giving you a challenge prompt for each month of the year.   

Reading Challenges help push us as readers. They give us a book to read that we wouldn't have picked on our own. They are a great way to shake us out of our routine and ruts. And when we post a reading challenge for our patrons, we help them discover great reads they wouldn't have found without our intervention-- which is when we show our worth.

Second, even if you don't do the Reader Challenge it is a great inspiration for displays. Again, from Sabat's post:

You can even use the challenge to inspire displays or programs at your library. Create a display pairing movies and books for March or highlight your manga collection for May. Host a silent book club for April, where readers can come and read their book individually but in the same space as others. There are so many ways that you can make each month's challenge work for your library.  

Even if all you do is bookmark her post, you have 12 displays done for you.

Third, and this is a Becky mantra-- you can add these prompts to the cache of conversation starters I have been talking about in detail during 2023. Here is the link to all of my posts labelled "Conversation Starter" and here is the specific post with my directions on how to turn conversation starters into interactive displays.

And fourth, because well, I am a broken record sometimest, previous year's reading challenges work just as well as the current ones. Click here for NoveList Reading Challenges from past years. Also you can use any reading challenge from any resource or all of them to do everything in this post. Crowdsource many different reading challenges from a variety of places AND use backlists to get display ideas, increase your cache of conversation starter questions to use in rotation, etc...

For 2024 why not try to create a reading challenge for your patrons and make it work for any and all readers, at all ages levels. Hand it out at the circulation desk, all other service desks, and offer it up in your online spaces. Encourage people to come in and get a small prize (book mark, pen, sticker) when they complete a month. Encourage families to do it together. Maybe even plan a larger prize lottery for those who do all 12.

But, you don't need to make your own. As Sabat told me, you can use theirs at your library. Just let people know it is via NoveList. And as she says in the post:

If you need help figuring out where to start with these challenges, don't worry; we'll share suggestions monthly on our social media channels. Plus, just like we did this year, we'll create longer lists of title options via our 2024 NoveList Reading Challenge recommended reads lists, which you can find on the homepage of NoveList and NoveList Plus. 

You can even use those NoveList created lists to get your patrons started. It would be an easy display for all age levels every month. You can put up the monthly prompt and make a small display on any open space. 12 months of reading challenges with titles, for every reader, already done for you. 

There is literally no excuse to not use this valuable resource. Whether it is this year's list or past lists, there are many ways to make this (or any reading challenge) work for you and your patrons.

Here is the full list of Reading Challenges for 2024 from Sabat's post. Each month, there will be titles, display ideas, and more that coincide with the prompt, all year long.

JANUARY: Start off the year exploring new authors by reading a 2023 debut. NoveList tip: Search for the genre "Debut title" 

FEBRUARY: Read a romance or love story starring Asian characters.   

MARCH: Read a book from the last five years that's been adapted into a movie or TV series. NoveList tip: Search for the genre "Page to Screen"  

APRIL: Discover the joy of communal reading! Read to or in a group of two or more.   

MAY: Read a standalone manga or the first volume of a manga series.  

JUNE: Keep it quick by reading a novella.  

JULY: Read a book set in Australia or New Zealand.   

AUGUST: Enjoy a mix of magic and the macabre with a dark fantasy. 

SEPTEMBER: Get ready for the coziest season by reading a cozy mystery.  

OCTOBER: Embrace the scary by reading a creepy horror novel or ghost story.   

NOVEMBER: Read a novel by an Indigenous author.  

DECEMBER: Wrap up the year by reading an award-winning book from the last three years. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

Attack of the Best Lists 2023: Library Journal's Best Books Portal

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Attack of the Best Lists 2023" coverage [and more backlist best of the year options] you can click here.

Illustration ©2023 Jim Tsinganos

The Library Journal 
Best Books of 2023 portal is LIVE! From the landing page

There are many ways to measure a year—in calendar days, school semesters, anniversaries, or birthdays; at LJ we measure the year in books. Our bibliometric datebook is marked by titles we look forward to for months, books we read in one big, delightful spree, and those we savor, re-read, and share. Every year we convene to ponder our top picks. We talk about what we’re reading, suggest titles to one another, and discuss, with growing excitement and anticipation, selections that we just know will be among our best books. Here are our choices: 149 titles across 15 categories; each a work we have treasured. We are excited that these books exist in the world, waiting to be found or read anew.

I am very happy to have been part of the team who looked at the year that was and prioritized the reading experience of these titles as we weighed their status as best. It is a refreshing way to look at the "best" tag. As I went through the Horror selection experience over a couple of meetings with my editor and list mate, Melissa DeWild, the conversations we had about all of the titles we considered was enlightening. 

Please note, this is the LJ Best Horror list. It it is similar to, but not exactly my personal Horror Best List for 2023. As we look at the genre, only titles that got a star in the Horror category in LJ can be considered. So there are titles I gave a star to in Booklist that did not get a star in LJ or, as is the case with Whalefall, it was a star but in SF. 

The experience of working on this list is very fulfilling even when my absolute favorites are excluded. I also had the pleasure of writing all the annotations for the Horror list.

But back to the entire portal, I hope you all take away more from these lists than merely which titles are included and which excluded, and rather use them as a jumping off point to consider your own "bests"- both yours and your patrons. Prioritizing the reading experience is such a helpful way to think about which books rise to the top. 

Below are the categories, linked to the lists. Each category is offered as a web page  that you can post and share with your patrons more easily. And there is a bonus category of "Captivating Covers" this year again as well.

But first, here are the links to the 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018 lists as well. 

Again, here is the portal page link, but you can also use the category links below.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Attack of the Best Lists 2023: Audio Edition

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Attack of the Best Lists 2023" coverage [and more backlist best of the year options] you can click here.

Today I have Audio specific lists from Audible and Audiofile Magazine.

Both are separated into categories and include extra appeal information in their reviews, most importantly, comments about the narrators. The Audible list includes Podcasts as well.

A few things about these lists from you RA Service standpoint:

  • You can use these lists to make displays online with links to eAudio
  • You can use these lists to help fill out your in library displays even if ou have to put the print book on display. No one is double checking if you go the format correct and there is no library jail to send you to if they figure it out. With best lists, the more titles, the better.
  • Neither is great with obvious backlist access, so I have it here for you:
    • Audible Best of 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 (I love how Audible's presentation of these lists has changed so much over the 5 years listed. It shows us a lot about how much the popularity of eAudio has exploded in the last few years)
    • Audiofile's Best of 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018
Have a look or a listen this weekend and add these titles to my general Best Books advice.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Attack of the Best Lists 2023: Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books and Insert Your Library Here

This post is part of my year end "Attack of the Best Lists" coverage. To see every post in my "Attack of the Best Lists 2023" coverage [and more backlist best of the year options] you can click here.

Library generated best lists are one of your best end of year tools, especially when you use the largest library near your physical location as a guide. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Library generated best lists reflect the opinions of actual staff and readers. What did staff most enjoy and what was popular? It is not just critical acclaim or sales data. Remember bestselling mainstays like Daniel Silva, Louise Penny, and Colson Whitehead were extremely popular in libraries well before they became household names. Library workers and patrons often know what is popular and good long before the rest of the world catches up.
  2. Library generated best lists take into consideration all ages of readers because they serve all ages of readers.
  3. Library generated best lists always have genre choices because library workers know patrons love genre-- especially Romance and Crime Fiction.
  4. Library generated best lists ALWAYS consider local or regional authors which is why I advocate for you to prioritize using the best list from the library in the largest city closest to you [in the same state if possible]. 
  5. Library generated best lists are not commercial in anyway. There are no publishers submitting books to their sites. No one is buying ads to be include. There are no links to encourage those using the list to buy the titles. 
  6. Library generated best lists know that the BACKLIST is not only important to provide access to but also, it is a tool in and of itself. We are all about "new to you" the reader. 
I think you get the point. So today, I have my nearest big city public library as an example, The Chicago Public Library with a branch 6 miles from my house. But you can use any big city or metro area library near you to help you have a regional interest best books option. Or go with the NYPL, from the largest city in our country. They have their lists in multiple languages and with graphics you can use to promote.

But back to Best of the Best from Chicago public library. I love this list even if it wasn't from the city closest from me. Explore with the link below or head to the CPL Best of the Best landing page:

Every year, Chicago Public Library staff work hard to evaluate the year’s new books, and today we are proud to present our latest annual recommendations for book lovers in Chicago and beyond. Happy reading!



For teens in high school.


Past Selections